It is called an IFB. That stands for Interruptible Feed-Back. It is the little earpiece that on-air folks use to hear from the director and producer during a newscast. If you ever saw the movie Broadcast News starring Holly Hunter and William Hurt, you may recall the scene where Holly Hunter’s character, a news producer, is feeding information to the rather air-headed anchorman played by William Hurt, during a breaking news special report. It became even more of an information chain than usual, when the sad-sack reporter played by Albert Brooks, started calling in some background material from home to the producer in the booth who then told it to the anchor on the set who then passed it onto viewers at home who mentioned it to the cow with the crumpled horn
who tossed the dog
who worried the cat
who killed the rat
who ate the malt
that lay in the house that Jack built.
Oops. Sorry. Got carried away.
In the old days, nobody used an IFB. There was a floor director wearing one of those big headsets, in his spare time he could talk to NASA, who then, through hand signals, passed time cues along to the anchor people. If there was a change in a script or breaking news or something along those lines, a person would have to physically walk into the studio and hand it over. That way, the anchor man or woman could say, with dramatic flourish, “This just handed me!” Now, they would have to say something like “This just e-mailed me!” or “This just instant-messaged me!” or “This just yelled into my ear!” Not nearly as exciting. Weatherdorks were among the last on-air people to get an IFB. Then, when we did, it was like something Uhura would’ve worn on Star Trek. It looked like I had rutabagas growing out of my ear…which my mom always said would happen if I didn’t do a better job scrubbing them. Eventually, the IFBs became personalized. You would take this powdery stuff…mix in the water…smush it around in your ear and let it harden up a little. Then, you would pull it out and have a mold, from which a snug-fitting ear piece could be manufactured. You could always wait until you were in a store or on a bus and then yank the clay-like substance out of your ear…just to make on-lookers scream “YUCK!”
Even with a form-fitting ear piece, the IFB can have problems. It only takes a little crack in the plastic tubing to make the thing act up. Sometimes, it cuts out completely but often it becomes an intermittent problem. Certain words get lost, for example. I remember once thinking the director had said “Joel…you…ape…why…don’t…you…shut…up…nimrod.” But, it turned out to be just my IFB acting up. She really had said “Joel, I need you to mention the Great Grape Juice festival at the YMCA. Also, don’t forget you need to shut the computer off before you head upstairs….Nimrod.” Every now and then, the director and producer will accidentally hit the button for me when they mean to talk to the big shots, Donna Pitman, Jere Gish or Johnny Rowlands. Many’s the time I’ve heard “We all know Joel is dragging the show downhill but…oops…sorry, Joel…wrong button.”
Monday morning the IFB problem was not technical or anything like that. It was all because I’m a pea-brain. As mentioned in this space last week, Channel 9 is in the process of moving to the new building across town. Saturday we had a run-through at the new place. I took my handy-dandy IFB. Well, sometime between then and now, I put it somewhere. I think it is in the pocket of the suit-jacket I was wearing that day. Anyway, when I arrived at the old building to do this morning’s FirstNews, I realized I had no IFB. Because, we’re moving, my old, back-up gizmo was not around. Thanks to a very creative audio genius named Cody, I was outfitted with a make-shift deal. The problem was, it kept falling out of my ear. The holes in my head are just too big. All through the show, I had to reinsert the pretend IFB. Now, having done weather for over 20 years, I’ve been told to “Just shove it!” often enough to know what I had to do. For some reason, the ear plug I was using had been colored bright red by a bored audio board technician so, every time it fell out, it looked like I was bleeding from my left ear. It would not have been the first time I was bloodied during the news. One time I questioned Jim Flink’s journalistic judgment, personal ethics and fashion sense and he hauled off and belted me. The fashion remark really got under his aloe-treated skin.
My morning ear ache was caused by my own dunderheadedness…how’s that for a word! Still, it made me long for the days when I didn’t have to stick anything in my ear to do the show…when we had real live people hanging out in the studio rather than robotic cameras and disembodied voices…when I didn’t feel like I was impacting enough ear wax to make candles for every Christmas Eve church service in town. Then, again, I have always marched to beat of my own drum. My own damaged ear drum, that is.